For five years, I worked at a community college counseling center where I focused on providing individual and group therapy to queer students. Part of this work meant creating workshops and trainings to fellow staff members, faculty, students, and even audiences at national conferences about the mental health of the queer community.
There were many times where my task list included finding all the statistics I could about queer mental health. The data was endless and at the time, I was glad to see such immense effort in gathering this information. I saw infographic after article after blog after academic study about depression, anxiety, trauma, and loads more in queer youth and adults. Being inundated with this information, I started to give into the temptation of seeing “queer mental health” - a neutral phrase - as inherently negative.
“Queer mental health” has become associated with depression, anxiety, identity dysphoria, trauma, and all the other valid and very real struggles that queer folks face. While the objective of this data is for the most part well-intentioned (i.e., to raise awareness and justify resources - my two motives while doing this work), it can backfire and inadvertently double-down on the oppression.
By seeing us as a damaged and traumatized group of people, cis-het allies feel sorry. They feel anger for the discrimination and violence we receive and they feel passion for our causes. These feelings are necessary and lead to really helpful things like compassion, donations, support, and allyship. The problem is when it stops there; the dynamic still positions us as beneath, pitiful, and ultimately, less than. We are to be saved and fixed. Inadvertently perpetuating the idea that we are deviant and abnormal.
Where are the endless lists of all the positive statistics about being queer? Where can I go to see that my queerness is a STRENGTH, not a disadvantage or, as the psychology industry loves to call it, a “risk factor”? When will cis-het folks who created the laws, culture, micro- and macro-agressions that cause these mental health issues in the first place realize that they are the ones to be changed, they are the ones to do the work?
When all you see are negative facts about yourself and your community, how can you not internalize it? I certainly did, especially during that period in which I was doing so much research. Identifying our sense of self as one and the same with damaged and traumatized, we skip over, deny, or flat out don’t see the power that comes with being queer. We see our queerness as a detriment to be coped with, to be tolerated. And, gosh, are we good at coping! We are masters of it - we have to be because our very identity is chiseled down to a statistic to be overcome.
This is not all to say that the trauma of being queer is not real. It is VERY real. The statistics about high rates of depression, anxiety, etc. are accurate. However, that is not ALL that we are. While our past and current trauma informs much of our lives and how we move through the world, it does not DEFINE us. Our intersecting identities also inform us. So do our likes and dislikes. Our brilliance. Our beauty. Our tenacity.
Resilience is one of those things I’ve always known deep down must be present in the mental health of queer folks. Yet in all these years, I still can’t seem to find hard data about resilience in queer communities. I see things about how certain factors like a loving family can contribute to resilience, but not actually discussing it as a positive mental health outcome that is part of being queer. See, given all the oppression and violence queer folks have to face, OF COURSE we are resilient. Queer resilience is a fact that is just under-studied and therefore under-reported.
So how do we embrace resilience and release the stereotype of damaged and traumatized? Here are some ideas:
If you resonate with anything I’ve written here, know that you’re not alone. There are powerful forces at play to fit you into a box that is enclosed by a specific narrative, even if they’re well-intentioned. For queer folks, the narrative is often one that is drenched in shame, damage, and trauma. You are more than that. If you need some support and guidance in releasing some of this, feel free to schedule a complimentary consultation with me for yoga+therapy.
Namaste and Love,